Last week Democratic Audit produced its annual report, which concluded that UK democracy ‘is in long-term terminal decline.’ The report cited various factors for this pessimistic prognosis, including falling voter participation and registration, unrepresentative politicians, an ‘unprecedented’ growth in corporate power, falling membership of political parties, and the fact that growing numbers of UK citizens no longer even talk about politics among themselves.
In an interview with the Guardian, one of the report’s authors, Stuart Wilks-Heeg argued that
The reality is that representative democracy, at the core, has to be about people voting, has to be about people engaging in political parties, has to be about people having contact with elected representatives, and having faith and trust in elected representatives, as well as those representatives demonstrating they can exercise political power effectively and make decisions that tend to be approved of…All of that is pretty catastrophically in decline. How low would turnout have to be before we question whether it’s really representative democracy at all?
A good question, and one worth asking in view of the ghastly spectacle that unfolded at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium last Wednesday night, where Tony Blair appeared on stage with ‘Red Ed’ Miliband at a gala Labour ‘sports dinner’ for which guests forked out £500 a ticket.
Blair’s re-appearance was stage-managed by Alastair Campbell and former Labour general secretary ‘Lady’ McDonagh, to announce his new role as policy advisor on sport, and was accompanied by the usual starry-eyed gushing in both the liberal and rightwing press.
In the Guardian, a column that was curiously listed as ‘analysis’ celebrated ‘the return of the king to heal divisions within the Labour tribe.’ Then there was the Telegraph, exhorting the ‘far left’ to get over the ‘mistake’ of the Iraq war and accept that TB is a jolly good fellow at heart and isn’t it good to have him back etc.
Blair’s reappearance followed a series of articles and interviews describing his various desires to re-engage with British politics, to be loved by the British people, to become Prime Minister again and President of Europe.
None of this is at all surprising from a man whose monstrous ego is only matched by the bizarre conviction that he was put on earth to serve both God and mammon. But what is really depressing – and revealing – about Blair’s slouching back from Bethlehem is the fact that Miliband is helping him to do it.
Had Miliband not taken such pains to distance himself from Blair during his campaign for the Labour leadership, he would never have received the support of the trade unions and he would not have beaten his brother. Yet here he is, praising his achievements and giving him a political role that will almost certainly expand over the coming years.
Some commentators have attributed this to astute politicking on Miliband’s part, but I I suspect that Blair’s millions may have more to do with it, given the Labour Party’s financial situation, and I doubt that it was a decision that caused Miliband too much lost sleep.
The distancing exercise that he engaged in during his leadership campaign was essentially a strategy for winning the election. Having secured that objective, he clearly sees no need to engage in anymore, and now seems to believe that recruiting Blair will help him win the next national election.
This is essentially how the Labour ‘tribe’ operates. It is a machine for winning elections, which seeks to be everything to everyone. On one hand it is committed, like the coalition, to serving the interests of the rich and powerful, and no less permeated by corporate lobbyists.
This is why Blair once blocked the Serious Fraud Office’s investigation into British Aerospace, why he criticized the lame Financial Services Authority for its supposedly excessive regulation in 2005. It is why Gordon Brown once sold off half off Britain’s gold reserves to an unnamed American Bank – deliberately flagging up the sale so that the price could fall as low as possible – in order to help that bank balance its books.
Like the Coalition, Labour accepts the essential principle that banks are always too big to fail. It is committed to a ‘reform’ of public services agenda that the electorate never voted for, and which essentially consists of prising open the economy so that private companies, banks and corporations can make even more money than they already do.
All this is done by politicians who know that if they do what they are expected to do, they will do very well out of it. Like ‘Baron’ John Reid, who moved from Home Secretary to becoming a consultant for of G4S, and become lords, ladies and baronesses. Or the useless Oona King, who became a baroness even though she never achieved anything except demonstrate unfailing loyalty to Blair.
At the same time, unlike the Conservatives, Labour has a constituency that expects it to behave differently – albeit with growing desperation and lack of conviction, as its falling party membership during the Blair and Brown years demonstrated.
It was that constituency that got Miliband got elected in the great choice between Miliband and Miliband. To please it, the Labour leadership must show that it is ‘listening’; it must seek ways to ‘channel’ or ‘express’ popular anger at the catastrophic consequences of elite crime and mismanagement in order to profit from it politically – when out of office - while all the time ensuring that such anger can never have any real impact on the corporations and financial institutions to which it is beholden when it actually gets into power.
And that is why there is nothing surprising about the sight of ‘Red Ed’ – the man who got elected because he was not Blair – sharing a stage with Blair and his ghastly wife, grinning their weird glacial grins.
They may have good reason to smile, but others may have pause to wonder at the motives of ‘Red Ed’ Miliband, the principled left-of-centre politician brought Blair back from the political dead. And some may conclude that, like his predecessor and his party, he really doesn’t have any convictions or principles at all, and that what happened in the Emirates Stadium was just another indication of the transformation of UK democracy into a hollowed-out corporate wasteland.
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